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There are times when our pain seems unbearable. Lysa TerKeurst talks honestly about how some of her deepest pain affected her life, and how the blood of Jesus not only covered it, but became her anthem to help others.
Lysa: When my counselor said, “Today’s a great day to start working on forgiveness,” I remember thinking, “That’s not even possible. They haven’t said that they were sorry; and really, honestly, I don’t think that they’ve suffered like they should suffer. Like they don’t deserve my forgiveness because, if I forgive them, isn’t that me saying, at this point, that what they did was okay when it very much was not okay?”
Ann: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on our FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today.
Dave: I’ve got a quote I want to see if you can finish.
Ann: Oh, no; is this a pass or fail grade?
Dave: No; I think you’ll easily finish this because we wrote about it in our book. I’ve said it many times from the stage; it’s a life-changing quote for me. The first time I heard it, you were sitting right beside me at the Weekend to Remember®. We were there, as an engaged couple, and went to this marriage conference—which we didn’t know anything about—with FamilyLife, the Weekend to Remember. “We need to go to this before we get married.”
Ann: And you actually remember a quote from 41 years ago?
Dave: Oh, yes; let me tell you. Because that quote and that weekend was life-changing. I’ve just got to say this: the Weekend to Remember is still happening; it’s back on. You can sign up right now and go for half price—half price!
Ann: That’s big.
Dave: That’s a big deal, and it’s going to change your life just like it changed our life. It’s an amazing weekend that you don’t want to miss, so sign up right now at FamilyLifeToday.com.
Well, let me tell you, here’s how the quote goes: “When you forgive someone, you set a prisoner free—
Ann: —“only to realize the prisoner was you.”
Ann: Is that right?
Dave: Almost; it’s close enough. That was Lewis Smedes.
Dave: When I read that quote, decades ago in a book on forgiveness, I realized I thought I was locking my dad up by not forgiving him—for the divorce and walking out when I was a little boy—and [with] that truth, a light bulb came on, like, “Oh my goodness! I’m locking me up. I can’t become the man God wants me to be, and I’m—you know, because I will not go—you know, I’m in a cage!
Ann: Yes, you’re in bondage.
Dave: That literally started me on a journey, which was the hardest journey of my life; because I thought, “Okay, I’ll forgive him this weekend,” and it didn’t go that way.
Ann: Well, I remember you saying, “I’m going to forgive my dad this weekend,” and then it took years.
Dave: Oh, yes.
Behind every journey like that is a really hard story. I discovered a book that I think is the best book I’ve read on forgiveness; and we’ve got the author of that book, Lysa TerKeurst, with us today. Lysa, thank you for being here. Welcome to FamilyLife Today.
Lysa: Thank you so much. It’s an honor as always to be here, but such a treat to be here with you guys today.
Ann: Yes, we’re pretty excited—especially, we were on vacation over the weekend, reading your book—and Dave is handing me your book every—
Dave: I’ve got to be honest.
Ann: —five seconds, like: “Read this,” “Read this,” “Read this.” [Laughter]
Dave: We’re supposed to be like on a mini-vacation; right? We’re on the beach; we’re laying there. She looks over and goes, “What are you working for? You’re reading a book that…"
I’m reading it, because we’re going to interview you [Lysa]. I’m like, “Honey, I cannot stop reading this book.”
Dave: Lysa—I’m not kidding—thank you! This book is such a gift to the body of Christ/to anybody, really. You opened up things I’ve never even considered in the area of forgiveness.
Let’s let our listeners know it’s called Forgiving What You Can’t Forget, and your subtitle is amazing: Discover How to Move On, Make Peace with Painful Memories, and Create a Life That’s Beautiful Again.
Lysa: Yes; I write about what I struggle with, so this book wasn’t born out of some kind of fake notion that I’m a forgiveness expert. That’s not it at all. I was struggling with forgiveness so much, thinking that I honestly understood forgiveness and had a general concept of it, because I’ve been a Christian for a long time. But I wrote this message because I needed this message most of all.
Dave: Yes, and you can tell by reading it. It is—in some ways, I felt like I was reading your journal—because you write so well. It’s like I’m living/you know, as a reader, you’re sort of there; you can feel the pain.
Ann: Yes, you’re captured; you’re in the story.
Dave: And you take us on a journey, that’s not just your journey—it’s really everybody’s journey that needs to go on that, like Lewis Smedes says, to get free—and it has to do with forgiveness. Tell us a little bit; because I’m guessing, 10 years ago/20 years ago, you weren’t thinking, “I can’t wait to write this book.”
Lysa: No, no.
Dave: This was not the book you wanted to write, but you wrote it.
Ann: I also thought it was interesting, as we get into your story, that you were talking about how your life was divided into the BC and then the AD. What does that mean?
Lysa: It’s “Before Crisis” and “After Devastation.” I think sometimes we walk through situations or issues in our life—it could be hurt; it could be heartbreak; it could be disappointment, disillusionment/there’s such a scale—but when we walk through something that’s so hard, and maybe even so harsh, it’s easy to define our life from before that happened, and then there’s such a sharp line that divides before and after.
Usually, that’s how time is marked according to the birth of Christ. But in my life, there was also a real marking of when my life appeared, even to me, to be one way and then there came this enormous emotional crash, after just realizing that some dynamics in my family were not what I thought they were; and then forever marked that this is now “After Devastation.”
But when talking about a forgiveness message, I love that you said, “I bet, ten years ago, this isn’t a message you ever thought you wanted to write.” I would say
100 percent, because it’s not a message I ever wanted to live. When I talk about forgiveness, I automatically know that, just uttering that word, people are going to attach that this word is connected to probably one of the most devastating or a series of very devastating, hurtful events.
It’s easy to hear the word, “forgiveness,” and think, “That’s nice. I know I should do it, but…” It’s easy to cross our arms, kind of push back, and feel an enormous amount of resistance; and that’s exactly where I was.
I knew I needed to work on forgiveness; but when I started writing the message, I spent over 1,000 hours studying forgiveness in the Bible. My team showed up one day, and I had typed out—they thought it was going to be a chapter—but what I actually typed out were all the reasons why I absolutely should not be the one to write this book, and all the people that I really felt like I would not be able to forgive, and all the reasons why I was so very justified in not forgiving those people. It forced me to come, face to face, with the reality that I agree with biblical forgiveness as a principle; but deep down inside of me, I have so much resistance to living it out.
That brings me back to the fact that I studied forgiveness in the Bible for over
1,000 hours. I didn’t do that because I wanted to become a theological expert; I did that because I was looking for the loophole and the exception: “Surely, there has to be some circumstances where forgiveness doesn’t apply.”
Ann: Take us back to that point of what happened that made you dig in the Word, of saying, “God, I need answers.”
Lysa: I experienced a very dramatic crisis in my most precious relationship, and I wrote all about that in It’s Not Supposed to Be This Way. It’s the very thing that threatened to tear my family apart/very much was the worst betrayal of my entire life. I think I thought I was doing okay until I went to a counselor. I can’t say enough about just combining therapy and theology as one pursues wholeness, healing, and health.
I went to my counselor, and it was during a particularly devastating part of the journey that I was walking through. I walked in; I remember I had this thought, “I don’t remember when it was the last time that I actually washed my hair or brushed my hair.”
Lysa: I was just in this desperate place of feeling so broken and so hopeless. I walked into my counselor’s office. He looked at me and he said, “Lysa, do you want to heal?” I said, “Of course, I want to heal. I’m doubting if it’s possible; because I just wonder, ‘Is it possible to be so broken that healing becomes impossible?’ But I do want to heal.”
He said, “Then today’s a great day to start working on forgiveness.” I remember thinking: “That’s not even possible. I’m not even in communication with this person that’s hurt me so badly. They haven’t said that they were sorry, and I don’t know if reconciliation is ever going to be possible,” and “Really, honestly, I don’t think that they’ve suffered like they should suffer. Like they don’t deserve my forgiveness; because if I forgive them, isn’t that me saying, at this point, that what they did was okay when it very much was not okay?’ and “Isn’t that me saying that it was no big deal when it was a huge deal? What if that other person doesn’t even think that they need to be forgiven, then how do you even get traction in a situation like that?”
My counselor listened to my resistance message; and he didn’t argue with me, and he didn’t fight against me. He just listened; and then he said, “Okay, well, Lysa, let’s just start with your pain.” He handed me a stack of 3x5 cards; and he said, “Why don’t you just write out one thing on each card how you’ve been hurt? Just write this pain, and this hurt, and this wound; just get it out.”
I started writing one thing on each card—the facts of how I’d been hurt—suddenly, it was as if the entire floor in front of us was covered with my 3x5 cards.
Ann: Lysa, as you continue that, do you think most of us could write down a ton, or hundreds, or maybe 20 things of why we’ve been hurt in our lives?
Lysa: I think that people would be surprised at how much pain is really locked inside of them. Because we generally categorize our pain as an incident; when, in reality, there’s 10, 20/maybe, a 100 facts of how we’ve been hurt that feed into that incident. Unless we look at the pain, and deal with the pain, it’s impossible to heal from the pain.
A lot of us are trying to fix the incident that happened, but without dealing with the pain that is feeding all of the emotion that’s driving the intensity of the hurt and the chaos. Without dealing with that—my counselor has told me before—“When it’s hysterical, it’s historical; and what’s not worked out will be acted out.” How it was playing out with me is I would say: “Oh, no; I’m not bitter,” “Oh, no; like I’ve dealt with the pain.”
But then I would get triggered/somebody would say something or something would happen—and it was maybe a minor offense—but I would have a completely out-of-proportion reaction to their very small offense, and my reaction didn’t even have very much to do with them. It’s that I have unhealed pain from my past, and I was pulling it into my very present situation. Anytime we act hysterical—not hysterical like ha, ha funny—but hysterical as in too much emotion for what’s right in front of us: “When it’s hysterical, it’s historical; it’s undealt with.”
I used to think triggers were just awful, like the worst thing in the world; but now, I look at triggers differently. They are inconvenient; I wish I could time my triggers, but that’s not how triggers work. Because triggers catch you off guard, I used to think, “This is so cruel. Why would God allow the triggers to happen like this? It’s so awful.” But then I realized it’s actually God’s mercy; because if the full impact of hurt would hit us at the exact moment when the devastation happens, it could kill us. So how good and gracious of God to let the pain leak into our life—months even, sometimes, years—so that we can almost bite off our healing, one little piece at a time.
Ann: So go back—you’re in your counselor’s office—can you share some of the writings that were on some of those cards?
Lysa: Some of the deepest wounding was: “I thought I could trust you,” “I felt like I had it all together; and then choices were made, that I had no say so over, that made everything fall apart,” “This is my favorite part of my life, and you took it away,”—a lot of deep pain there.
I remember, when I stood back and looked at all those cards on the floor, I remember thinking, “No wonder I’m so exhausted. Look at all I’ve been carrying.” I didn’t even realize how much was really there until I wrote it out.
Ann: You even mentioned like you were sick.
Ann: Do you think that had something to do with what was on the floor?—
Ann: —the effects of the stress, and the pain, and the betrayal.
Lysa: Absolutely; because in your body, the neuro pathways that carry physical pain also carry emotional pain; the two are very connected. It’s just more, in physical pain, there is a protocol that’s set up that people know exactly what to do; people know how to support you. You get to a doctor; and the doctor, if it’s intense enough, admits you to the hospital. If there’s brokenness, then you put a cast on it; if there’s bleeding, then you stitch it up; if there’s—you know what I’m saying?—there’s like a whole protocol.
But if you’re sitting on the side of the road—and its emotional pain: there’s no blood; there’s no broken bone—there’s no place to go. Like if I was in this much physical pain, and they did surgery, they would put me to sleep; because they would have mercy on the intensity of the pain. But when you’re in intense emotional pain, you feel like there’s surgery being done to you, but without being put to sleep!
That almost seems just insane to me that we would have to suffer on that deep level of emotional pain without some kind of immediate relief. Obviously, people can go and get medication, and all of that, but there just wasn’t that instant protocol. It’s like there was this timer—you have to figure it out—and it’s very complicated.
I was there in my counselor’s office, and he looked at all of those cards, and he said back to me one of the kindest, most meaningful statements that a human has ever spoken to me; and he said: “Lysa, I believe you,” and “I not only believe you, but what’s happened to you was wrong,” and “If no one in this world dares to say they’re sorry, I’m sorry. I’ll say that to you today.”
I know that there’s a listener right now, who is resonating with the intensity of emotional pain, feeling betrayed, feeling abandoned, feeling broken. Maybe it’s because of choices you fed into, or maybe you had choices placed on you. Whatever the circumstances are—maybe you’re even feeling brokenhearted and not able to forgive yourself—but whatever it is, I just want to say to you: “I believe you. That pain is hard, and it is all consuming,” and “We don’t need to compare our pain with someone else’s pain. We just acknowledge, in the context of our life, it is intense; and it’s hard. What happened to you, that fed into all the situation that you are in and is causing you so much pain, what happened was wrong,” and “I’m so, so sorry. And if no one else in this world has ever dared to bear witness to your pain, I will.”
When my counselor did that for me on that day, it helped me put my guard down. This is the thought that popped into my head: “I deserve to stop suffering because of what other people have done to me.” Then it was less about having that epic moment, where the other person realizes how wrong they were, and they say they’re sorry; because you don’t have any control over what another person says, or does, or will or will not do. And if you wait for them to make choices to let your healing journey happen, then you are letting the person that hurt you the most hijack your ability to heal.
I knew I had to detach my ability to heal from another person’s choices. I put a stake in the ground and said, “I deserve to stop suffering, because of what another person has done to me. This is my pain, and it’s my choice to heal.” Jim [the counselor] looked back at me, and he said, “Okay, now it’s time to just verbalize forgiveness and have that marked moment, where you know you’ve been obedient to God.”
I said, “That’s great; but what if my feelings are not cooperating with this?—because my head says, ‘Yes!’ but the pain inside of my heart says, ‘No!’; and I don’t want to fake it with God because God sees.”
Jim said, “Lysa, you just have to remember that forgiveness is not something you conjure up in yourself; forgiveness is something that God has provided.” I had this picture of, as God’s forgiveness flows to me, I simply must cooperate with it and let it flow through me. So forgiveness isn’t something that I have to figure out; I just have to cooperate with God’s forgiveness.
Jim gave me a little script to say. I went, card by card by card; and the script I would say is: “I forgive this person for this particular pain; and whatever my feelings will not yet allow for, the blood of Jesus will surely cover it.” He handed me some red felt squares; and so each time I said that, I would lay a piece of red felt over that card. By the time I got to the very last card—and the very last time I said, “I forgive this person for this specific pain; and whatever my feelings will not yet allow for, the blood of Jesus will cover it,” and I covered that last one with red felt—I looked back; and it was no longer the pain that was staring at me.
I realized, “I’ve been obedient to God, and I still have some stuff to work through and that’s okay.” Because forgiveness is both a decision, which I made that day, and it’s a process of healing; and it can be both. We forgive in a moment for the fact of what happened; but learning to forgive for the impact, that’s going to take a long time. God’s command for us to forgive allows space for both.
Ann: That’s really powerful.
Dave: Boy, oh boy, I remember reading that—again, sitting on a beach in a glorious setting—that very chapter where you talk about the cards—
Ann: You shared it with me.
Dave: —and I shared it with Ann—and I just thought, “I need to do that.” I’ve had the big moment in my life of forgiving my dad—was a big one—but even as you talk, and even as I read your book, I’m like, “Oh, I have, I bet you, 30-40 cards right now I could easily write.
Ann: I think we all do.
Dave: I think we all could, so that’s why I bring it up. I thought, “What if a listener, or a thousand or tens of thousands of listeners, did that process today?”
Ann: I think it would be amazing. It would be really interesting to share this whole concept with the family around the table. I was thinking it would be really cool to talk about that, and the necessity of it, but also the reality of forgiveness. It’s not an easy thing, and it’s not a one-time thing; it’s a process.
Dave: —and it starts today.
Bob: Forgiving someone who has hurt us can be really hard. It’s also not an option for us, who are followers of Christ. We’ve been forgiven much, and we are called to forgive one another. Dave and Ann Wilson have been talking today with Lysa TerKeurst, who’s written a book called Forgiving What You Can’t Forget: Discover How to Move On, Make Peace with Painful Memories, and Create a Life That’s Beautiful Again.
If you are struggling with this issue of forgiveness—if there’s someone who has hurt you, and you think, “I can’t forgive them,”—let me encourage you to get a copy of Lysa’s book. It’s available in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. Order it from us online at FamilyLifeToday.com, or call to order at 1-800-FL-TODAY. Again, the website to order a copy of Lysa TerKeurst book, Forgiving What You Can’t Forget, is FamilyLifeToday.com. The number to call is 1-800-358-6329; that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word “TODAY.”
And don’t forget: this week and next week, we are encouraging you to join with thousands of other couples, from all across the country, who this fall are going to be joining us at an upcoming Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway. We’re so excited to have a full schedule of getaways planned for this fall. You can go online at FamilyLifeToday.com to find out when a getaway is happening in a city near where you live. If you register today for an upcoming getaway, you will save 50 percent off the regular registration fee.
It’s a great opportunity for you and your spouse to have a getaway as a couple; and honestly, I think all of us could use a couple of days to getaway and refresh a little bit. It’s been quite a season; hasn’t it? Find out more—you can register online, or call 1-800-FL-TODAY—but register now so you can attend an upcoming Weekend to Remember marriage getaway and save 50 percent off the regular registration fee. Again, details are online at FamilyLifeToday.com; or call us to register at 1-800-FL-TODAY.
Now, tomorrow, we’re going to hear more from Lysa TerKeurst about the process God took her through as she had to wrestle with forgiving someone who had hurt her profoundly/very deeply. The conversation continues tomorrow. I hope you can join us.
On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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